I just want to know where the trash bags are. I promise.

The view of the Ouse river running through central York on a sunny day.

York is such a charming city it’s almost paralyzing. Everything is built in that sweet old European style that if I were a different major I would have smart things to say about, but I’m not and I don’t, so I just will call it charming and sweet instead. The city is easy to navigate, has a lively nightlife and plenty to do during the day, and friendly bus drivers to boot. With enchanting views like this one and picturesque medieval walls surrounding the city, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, just about anything, apparently. So far in my stay at the U of York’s (or as the townies call it, the Uni) accommodations, most of my interactions with the reception staff have not gone very well. And this surprised me quite a bit because I consider myself to be a very polite and respectful person, always smiling and lightly self-deprecating to make other people feel comfortable, and the reception staff has also been very polite. But when I ask them things about normal Uni processes, things go a bit sour.

I was cooking some noodles in the kitchen last night and it occurred to me that the trash can was already completely full, even though orientation week hasn’t started yet, much less classes. So I went down to reception and asked if the cleaning staff took out the trash and replaced the bags or if that was up to the students. The reception staff raised their eyebrows and pursed their lips at me, as if my question was incredibly obvious and a stupid one to ask. I shrunk inwardly, feeling stupid. DU is a very nice school where the front desk supplies trash bags for dorms and the cleaning staff takes out the trash in the kitchens. I assumed something similar might happen at York.

Bad assumption.

The reception staff informed me somewhat coldly that students were responsible for taking out the trash, but they would supply replacement bags. I smiled and apologized probably too many times, trying to explain that things worked differently at different universities and I was just trying to understand their system, and not to demand that they take out the trash for me. They seemed to understand and I took my overanalyzing self back to the kitchen to take out the trash.

So what did I learn from this horribly awkward interaction? A few things.

  • Drop any and all assumptions about how this new place works.
  • Mentally prepare yourself for flexibility and the possibility of misunderstanding when operating in a completely different higher education system.
  • Adopt a friendly demeanor to help clear up any misunderstandings. Smiles vary in their frequency in different countries, but they can always help ease what would otherwise be a tense situation.

And in the meantime, don’t worry about the trash. Sometimes you’ve just got to take it out and then move on.

-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA Blogger

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The Good, The Bad, and The Different

Judging by the first two weeks I’ve spent in Spain, I will feel like I have packed in a whole lifetime’s worth of experiences by the time my three and a half months here are up. Time here feels contradictorily fast and slow – while two weeks has felt more like a month, I’m already lamenting the fact that I didn’t decide to study abroad for a whole year.

The feeling that time has been warped is due in part to how busy I have been. While at home I’m more apt to pass up activities in favor of relaxation, here I have been embracing the “you’re only here once” mentality and have therefore had days that never seem to end (but have taught me that I hit my limit somewhere around 4:00am). When days last that long and almost every moment is full, some experiences are bound to be less enjoyable than others. Sometimes I feel excited by new things. Other times, I just feel alienated. Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed, I try to keep in mind something one of our program directors told us on our first day here: “No one’s culture is good or bad, or better or worse than another – they’re just different.” Reminding myself of this from time to time helps alleviate the unavoidable awkwardness that comes with learning different customs and a different language. Bearing this in mind, I have tried to categorize some of my experiences thus far into three categories. First, I’ll list ones that have been truly good. Second, the truly bad. And third, the “different” – experiences which are both good and bad in turns and which I will eventually come to embrace as simply new realities that shape my life here.

The Good (+)

  • Siestas
    • Okay, so maybe I’m still bitter that they cruelly took away naptime from us post-Kindergarten, but I’m strongly in favor of the semi-official 2-5pm naptime that Spaniards have built into their schedule.
  • Excursions/Activities
    • In the first week, whenever I started feeling homesick and I went on a tour with my program, I instantly felt better. The historical sights are so beautiful and interesting that you can’t help getting caught up in the moment.
    • As a plus, these excursions allow you to meet all the great people you’re studying abroad with! Bond while exploring a new city and taking all the same tourist-y selfies.
Beneath "Las Setas," the largest wooden structure in the world built in one of Sevilla's plazas. Under it there is a fresh market and a museum that has preserved the ancient ruins (dating back to the Roman empire) Las Setas were built upon.

Beneath “Las Setas,” the largest wooden structure in the world built in one of Sevilla’s plazas. Under it there is a fresh market and a museum that has preserved the ancient ruins (dating back to the Roman empire) Las Setas were built upon.

On top of "Las Setas" - a beautiful view of Sevilla. One of my favorite excursions I've gone on yet!

On top of “Las Setas” – a beautiful view of Sevilla. One of my favorite excursions I’ve gone on yet!

The Bad (-)

  • Lost Luggage
    • The first day we arrived in Seville, one of the host families mistakenly loaded a piece of my luggage in their car. I realized how dependent I am on my laptop after three days without it.

The Different (+/-)

  • Walking/Transportation
    • You walk almost everywhere in Spain, which can be a good workout. (+)
    • If you walk too much your feet will hurt, you will get blisters, your ankles will get swollen, and you’re going to have to get up tomorrow and do it all over again. (-)
    • My university is outside of the city (as in, it’s in walking distance of nothing) and unless you feel like biking on the highway you have to pay to ride the metro every day. (-)
    • The metro is new and efficient, and the ride can actually be nice if it’s not too crowded. (+)
  • Clothes
    • The typical Spaniard dresses with much more flair and general effortlessness than the typical American (read: it’s possible yoga pants don’t even exist here). So, you will either end up blatantly sticking out as a foreigner (-) or you’ll have to go shopping (+)
  • Money
    • Spain is cash-based – it’s rare to pay with a credit card (and it’s a hassle if you don’t have the microchip that is standard in Europe). Using cash is a bit more complicated experience, especially when the denominations are different from what I’m used to. (-)
    • The euro is valued more than the dollar, which basically means that once I came to Spain and exchanged my money I was poorer than I was in the US. (-)
    • However, paying in cash also helps to keep me on a budget. It’s a lot easier to keep track of how much I’m spending when I can physically see how much I have left every time I look in my wallet. (+)

This is only a brief look at what my life in Spain has been like, and so far I can say that the good points definitely outweigh the bad. The cultural differences are starting to feel like they are just that – different, new, exciting, though at times overwhelming. Every day I am so glad to be here, to be absorbing a new culture, and to be learning how to adjust to the many nuances it holds.

Emily Laurinec-Studer, DUSA Blogger

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Where. Are. The Kleenexes?!

I, the illustrious and often confused Madeline Doering, have been under the Southern Skies now for over a month – a month and one week, to be exact – and by golly it’s all starting to come together. While living with a host family that speaks 0 English has been prodigious para mis habilidades lingüísticas, in a world of Spanish, I find myself talking to myself in increasingly frequent doses – and whether that’s good or weird (it’s weird, I  know), at least I understand what I’m saying – sometimes with a pretty snazzy Spanish accent even. Here are a few choice mutterings:

  • Where. Are. The Kleenexes?!

    Seriously, does no one blow their nose ever down here?
    I’ve noticed that where we typically compost and recycle as a luxury, and while widespread in Colorado, much of the United States remains criminally in the dark about the basic necessities regarding earth-friendliness and la Pachamama.don't pick flowers Here in Ecuador the Green Campaign is much stronger and much more of a habit – out of necessity rather than choice. There is always an Organicó next to the Basura, signs stating “sólo necesita un poco!” in the bathrooms (where sometimes you must supply your own paper), and no such thing as air conditioning or central heat. giant leaf 2So maybe it should come as no shock that something so wasteful as kleenex quite literally doesn’t exist – I’ve looked in stores, there isn’t any. But, I HAVEN’T SEEN ANYONE EVEN SNEEZE. What is the secret to this madness? And how can I too learn the ways?

 

 

 

 

  • I am not a cat, nor will I be eating one as a hamburger!

    Hamburgesas del Gato. WHAT? I don’t know what you all do here in Costaguatamexi-Ecuador, but back in America we do not eat cats.
    When we passed the Hamburguesas del Gato while going to “the bank” (I’ve learned “the bank” actually translates to 3+ hours of errands, one does not simply go to the bank) and I told my host sister Rosita that in no uncertain terms would I be eating a cat, she descended into a pile of giggles. No Maddie, gatos are people with blue or green eyes, sheesh. It’s basically hamburgers in the style of Europeans/Americans. Ridiculous. Hey, you people eat cuy (guinea pigs) down here, cats are just one step up. Meow.

  • Lets kiss then hug then kiss again. Then let’s do it again in 10 minutes when I leave.

    Saludos son muy importante around here. A mere, “What’s up?” or, the epitome of cool – the nod – will not suffice. I think when he saw my reaction, my Professor, Ismael, took pity and let me know it wasn’t a greeting requirement to kiss everyone, but hey, I’m lucky it’s not the double kiss in Spain or the – uck – triple kiss in France. ARMS LENGTH DISTANCE AT ALL TIMES, PEOPLE. Gracias.
    At this point, I’ve kissed and been kissed by more people than I care to ever admit. Ever.

  • No, I do not want mayonnaise on my carrots or my salad or my peas, why thank you. Actually, just keep the peas entirely.

    One does not simply put mayonnaise on everything! Especially vegetables! (yes potato salad, blah, blah, yuck) They make a big deal about everything being super natural around here – far fresher and more natural than in los Estados Unidos, por supuesto – but isn’t that slightly ruined WHEN YOU PUT GLOBS OF SLOPPY, GLOOPY MAYONNAISE ON TOP??????????????????? And peas. I actually just don’t like peas. I’m sure they’re very fresh and natural, though.

    El Mercado

    El Mercado

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  • I’m going to eat it on one of these floors imminently, I just know it.

    Every surface is smooth and shiny – they really know their right angles down here. But for those of us that can, at times, trip over their own feet, this can portend imminent catastrophe. Skirt over head. It’s going to happen.

  • Am I the only person here who doesn’t know anything about soccer?

    Yes? Alrighty then.

  • In the event of a Godzilla attack, please proceed calmly and orderly to the nearest park.
    It will never find me in the park! - Actually, it's an artist's depiction of an earthquake, and the park is a safe place in the city.

    It will never find me in the park! – Actually, it’s an artist’s depiction of an earthquake, and the park is a safe place in the city.


    It’s the harbinger of DOOOOOOOOOOOM!
    Yeah, I don’t know.

Well. Perhaps talking to myself is not entirely healthy for my sanity. But I’m amused.

What it all boils down to, mis chicos, is it’s always an adventure and there is always something to laugh at if you just look. Maybe in the darkest times you’ll have to squint your eyes a bit – wipe away a few tears even – but there’s a silver lining, there really is. Buen viaje mis amigos!

colorful selfie

- Madeline Doering, DUSA Blogger

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Filed under DUSA Bloggers, Latin America, Travel

Doing scary things on purpose

The University of York is surrounded by city walls that will make for excellent walks during the day.

The realization that I’ll be going to study abroad at the University of York in England for an entire year come mid-September still hasn’t quite sunk in. Most of my prep work is done, but every now and then the gravity of an exchange year starts to hit me.

There are a couple of questions that have been running through my head regarding this whole thing, and I thought I’d answer myself here.

Aren’t you scared to go abroad for a whole year?

Of course I am. I’m equal parts terrified and jumping-up-and-down excited about the whole thing. I love to travel and would like to believe I do so quite well, but Colorado is my home and it will be very hard to only spend about six weeks in my home over the next year.

Won’t you miss your friends? Will they even be your friends when you get back?

Being who I am-a person who loves fiercely, hates rejection, and has lost several very close friends over the years-this is a real worry for me. But like always, the logical and emotional parts of my brain are messy housemates. Emotional me is crying that I’ll have an amazing time abroad and then come back with no friends. Logical me is remembering that one of my dearest friends from high school lives a couple of thousand miles away from me and yet he’s still my best friend. We don’t get to talk to each other near as often as we would like, but when you have a friendship as genuine and as sweet as that, it’s not easily broken. And I think I can say the same for my friends here at DU. We won’t get to talk nearly as often as we do now living together and seeing each other every day. But they are special enough to me that I won’t just drop them, and I know they won’t do that to me either.

You’ll be doing an awful lot of travelling alone. Doesn’t that scare you?

It absolutely does! But after spending a few weeks way outside my comfort zone in southern Kenya, I learned that big risks pay off  massive dividends. The payoff doesn’t negate any of the rough parts in the middle-loneliness, getting sick, missing home, wondering if I’ve made a huge mistake in a particularly dark moment. I felt all of those things in Kenya. But it was and remains a trip I hold close to my heart. And I’m ready for the bits where I travel alone. I won’t be completely alone, as I’ll be meeting up with friends in pretty much every place that I go to.  Taking intentional time alone and journaling and actually going and doing things (museums, hikes, that sort of thing) by myself help me to grow content with my own company and to get to know my own head. Those are vitally important, as again, I’m the one who has to live with that stuff on a daily basis.

The bottom line is that come fall, I will be embarking on a crazy scary year. But I’m doing it on purpose. Doing scary stuff on purpose is pretty good for you, I think. Keeps a girl on her toes.

-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA blogger

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The Wall

You head east.

Yep, you break that sacred, unspoken Coloradoan rule and turn your back on the mountains. They’ll forgive you- eventually. You head past the supposedly haunted Mary Reed and the ever illustrious UHall, dash across University Blvd with the sorority sistahs and assorted other Greek and (non-Greek)-life bros making their trek home to Josephine St., and scurry the final block. Inside, you blow on your frost-tinged fingertips; the bright sunshine, while irritatingly blinding, not quite up to doing battle with the potent partnership of a bracing November air and breeze whose bite is slightly more than playful. You’ve almost made it.

So down the stairs you go.

And there it is. In the slight maze that is the I- house, sequestered in the basement – though almost every DU student will make the pilgrimage- is The Wall.

Have you not seen The Wall? Well what are you waiting for?! An invitation? An introduction? Please.

Covered in paper, countries you forgot existed alongside those you’ve always dreamed of visiting are represented. It stands, a memorial to adventure – both those already had and those yet to come. Oh holy Hades, how are you going to choose?

One could throw darts. One could meticulously read every minute detail on every sheet, do extra research, and draft elaborate pro/con pie graphs. One might be better off with the darts. You could turn to the Travel Channel and announce to your friends you will be traveling to whatever country first appears – only to have a show about alligator rastlin’ in the Florida Everglades helpfully and gracefully segue from commercial. Perhaps not. If only you could study abroad everywhere at once – but that might defeat the purpose.

If like me you’ve dreamed of the Southern hemisphere stars twinkling above you, finding Mt. Olympus, and kissing the Blarney stone, you’re about to find yourself at a bit of a crossroads. For me, the best decision is the one that has a little bit of fate thrown in. I managed to narrow down my choices to two. By weeding out places I would have other opportunities to visit and coming to the conclusion that what I was looking for was A Different study abroad experience, my dilemma became centered around Germany and Ecuador. But from there I couldn’t choose. So I submitted both applications not in any particular order, and waited for the study abroad office’s decision. Ecuador, here I am.

Maddie, at a Crossroads

Maddie, at a Crossroads

We easily forget that at DU the question is not usually if you are study abroad, but where. I was sitting in class when I was struck by the rather late-coming realization that the 30 people surrounding me would none be in the U.S. come fall. I will have friends in Bolivia, Mongolia, South Africa, China, Belgium, and more. Whatever your decision and however you choose to make it, what will be, will be. Few have returned with anything but silly grins splitting their faces, secret adventures in their hearts, and a vow to go again.

And now I stand in the 2nd highest capital city in the world, the equator just to my north, and 4 ½ months between me and Denver, Colorado. All those inspirational travel posters make so much sense now.

Adventure awaits! Westward (or Southward) ‘Ho! Hasta la vista, baybay!

Maddie Doering, DUSA blogger

Quito, Ecuador – MSID Ecuador

 

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Why I Chose French

This post is super exciting for me, as it is my first post that I have with a vlogging component!

It was super fun making this video, and while I still love to write and blog, I am hoping to have more video and other forms of media in my blog posts in the future. :) Enjoy this video!
Thanks for reading/watching!
blogsignature2

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I am NOT a Mzungu

Hamjambo!

Before I came to East Africa, I would have greeted you with “Jambo!” like in Mean Girls.  Now I know better – Jambo is a tourist greeting and is not proper Kiswahili.  The proper way is to say “Hujambo”, to which you respond “Sijambo”.  Or if you are greeting multiple people at once, like now, you use “Hamjambo”.  The more you know!

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The view from the beach only a 5 minute walk from where I live

So I’ve been living in Zanzibar for some time now, and it is finally starting to sink in that I’m really here and will be here for the next four months.  When it really sunk in though, was when I saw the stars.  The night sky in Zanzibar is absolutely stunning and has almost brought me to tears on more than one occasion.  I am living in a very dark part of the world, away from a lot of development, so the number of stars I can see is incredible since there’s very little light pollution.  And being in the southern hemisphere, the night sky looks different than it does at home.  When I finally had time to just look at the stars, that was when it really hit me that I’m actually in Africa and this beautiful island is mine to explore for four whole months.

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The moon (look really hard!  Just left of the palm) in Paje

Since I arrived here my days have been packed with intensive Kiswahili instruction (4 hours a day plus homework!), special lectures about the culture and expectations of the program, and water time.  After a few days in Stone Town, the main town on the west side of Zanzibar, we headed to Paje (pronounced pah-jay), a resort village on the east side of the island.  This was when I realized how small Zanzibar actually is – the drive from one side to another only took 45 minutes.  The beach at Paje is gorgeous and the tides are incredible.  Low tide can have you walking out over a mile until you see the ocean, and at night, you can see bio luminescent plankton washed up during low tide.

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These photos were taken 6 hours apart at high and low tide

While in Paje, we were assigned to visit a local village, about a five minute walk from our hotel, and my group’s personal assignment was to learn about local employment opportunities the locals have.  Using as much of the Kiswahili we had learned as possible, we walked right up to people and started asking.  One conversation we had really made me rethink the entire tourism industry.  We talked to a man not much older than us who worked for an excursion company (kitesurfing is very popular in Paje), and while he loves having tourists come and spend money, he isn’t the biggest fan of the new all-inclusive resorts that have been popping up on the island lately.  These resorts make their money by keeping guests at the resort.  The guests almost never leave and spend money in the community, and business has gone down in the past few years in the island.  He also made a good point about visitors going back home saying that they went to Zanzibar but they never talked to the locals or learned about the culture or did anything but stay at their hotel so did they really see Zanzibar?  All I know is, I’m going to think twice about booking an all-inclusive vacation in the future.

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We were able to see the poorer side of Paje, just a few minutes walk from our hotel.  It’s incredible the stark difference between the resorts surrounding this village.

On our last day in Paje, we rose before the sun to leave our hotel at 5:30am (which is 11:30 usiku in Swahili time) to head to Kizimkazi, about a 20 minute drive north.  We arrived at the beach as the sun was rising and piled into two wooden boats so as not to harm the creatures we were following.  As we headed to deeper water, we were told to be ready to jump in the water at any second in case there was a sighting so we all got our fins, mask, and snorkel ready (and in my case, my GoPro camera as well).  We heard a “GO GO GO” and we rushed into the surprisingly warm water and I stuck my camera in front of me so I didn’t miss anything.  After the bubbles cleared, I saw some dark figures swimming below me, so I followed their path, and before I knew it, I was swimming less than twenty feet away from a pod of bottlenose dolphins!  It was incredible to get that close to a wild dolphin and they were so peaceful and strong and just beautiful.  I didn’t even know that it was possible to swim with wild dolphins – I thought it was just a Discovery Cove thing.  I took plenty of footage, which you can check out below!

This was absolutely incredible.  The dolphins weren’t afraid of us, they were just hanging out with some small humans watching.

I had a truly African experience a few days ago.  We had an assignment to take what’s called a daladala to different places in Zanzibar and our project was at some old Arabic ruins next to the ocean.  Those were interesting and all, but the really interesting thing was the daladala ride.  Daladalas are basically open-air buses you can take for 300/= (about $0.18) but they pack you in more than sardines, so good luck if you’re even the least bit claustrophobic.  But people are more than happy to move over to accommodate someone else so they don’t have to crouch on the ground.  We ended up sitting in each other’s laps (good thing there were four of us).  Deciding to study Kiswahili on the daladala was actually a good idea because many of the people on the daladala wanted to help us out, especially when we were asked to pay twice.  The kindness of the Zanzibaris is without end, and I’m grateful to each and every one that has helped me in my short time in Zanzibar so far, and I’m sure I will owe them big time by the end of my time here.

daladala

This is a daladala
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The inside of the daladala.  This was not even close to how packed we were on the way to the ruins.

And lastly, feel such a sense of belonging to this town and my group of sixteen.  We are recognized walking on the streets of Stone Town and asked how our Kiswahili language class is going and if we’ve learned anything new since we last saw each other.  And one specific experience was when I was at the site of the ruins.  I finally learned how to tie my khanga (a single piece of fabric you tie around your waist and wear as a skirt), and when I walked up to the beach bar, one of the women working there told me “You tie your khanga just like a Zanzibari!” and that was the moment that I realized that I’m no longer a mzungu.

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The long yellow skirt I’m wearing is a khanga

My first few weeks here have already been unforgettable, and I’m really coming to understand the meaning of “experiential learning”, and not just having lectures.  Stone Town is beautiful and has so much history, which I will be posting updates about regularly.

As always, thanks for reading,

Baadaye! (until later)

Kim, DUSA Blogger

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